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I Always Wanted to...
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I Always Wanted to… is an upcoming weekly letter on what it’s like doing things I have always wanted to do.
Big things, little things, and (almost) every thing in between!
Starting very soon, I’ll be writing you more letters about stories, reflections, recipes, and recommendations to share ways we can restore, recalibrate, and rise through the journey of a human life.
For now, here’s a bite of one of my favorite bites: miang khum.
Disclaimer: I talk a lot of sh*t (literally) in this first letter, but trust that it’s all digestible and that this won’t be a regular topic of focus.
When stress arises, I get constipated.
Not just physically in my digestive system but also mentally, emotionally, and spiritually, which is why I give a lot of attention to the quality of my poop. It can give me clues to what my state of being is at that moment, and it immediately serves as a reminder that something within needs to be adjusted.
Sorry, y’all. I tried to figure out a less aggressive way of writing about poop without writing the word ‘poop’, but using ‘stool’ or any other descriptor in this context, in my expert poop opinion, is just as glaring. Can we agree to accept that any other term would smell just as foul?
It used to be easy for me to blame the faults of my internal stresses on external factors; a convenient, yet false belief that often made lessons from textbooks on life much heavier to carry around.
If I wanted to feel better, I had to start within.
It’s like that “Life Force” visual model psychiatrist Phil Stutz shared in Jonah Hill’s recent documentary film, Stutz, which explores the therapy-based dynamic between them and action-oriented tools for improving mental health. When one feels lost in life, he suggests working on the relationships in your life force: relationship to your body, relationships to people, and relationship to yourself. Variations of this life-saving tool has been taught to me several times throughout my life by many different teachers. I thank them all, especially my dad.
His love language, like many Asian parents, is food. When he didn’t have time to make a passionate mess in the kitchen to cook a meal, he would often pick up goodies from one of our favorite local Thai spots. We lived in Woodside/Jackson Heights, Queens where we were blessed with Thai-owned businesses like SriPraPai, 3 Aunties Thai Market, and Thailand’s Center Point, which is where dad got me my first taste of miang khum.
“Okay, Jen. Look at this, I just pick up this one and it good for help your stomach. You try, you see for yourself”.
It was finals week in college and a generally chaotic time of my life, so stress levels were high and my body was definitely not quiet about it. It was at time in my early adult life that I started to pay closer attention to how I was holistically feeling and how the food I eat could influence the quality of my whole being. If I couldn’t change the external things that bothered me, I could at least attempt to make changes internally. I realized that I wasn’t consuming enough rest, water, and insoluble fiber. Good thing dad came through with the goods.
Dad opened up the container of miang khum, explained all the different components, and showed me how to assemble and bundle up all of the seemingly disjointed ingredients into a single life-changing bite. Almost 13 years later, this is still my go-to treat for relieving my being (and my bowels).
Each bite of raw shallot, ginger, lime (with the rind), chili, peanut, toasted coconut, tiny dried shrimp, and sweet, savory tamarind shrimp paste sauce, all wrapped up in a leafy green, is truly an exhilarating experience. It looks like it shouldn’t work, but it’s just so perfect. I’m not exaggerating when I happily share that every person that has tried my homemade miang khum reacts in the same way: a quick show of multiple facial expressions conveying their internal mouth journey of delightful confusion all ending with a swallow of bliss and the usual, “Whoa, that is AMAZING!”
It’s that good.
In fact, it’s so good that I’m not going to spend time telling you about its origins and traditions. You can learn more about it here. Instead, here’s the recipe so you can get to putting this bite of self-nourishing love into your being A.S.A.P.
You can also check out my miang khum reel here!
Thank you for joining me on this new beginning. I appreciate you subscribing and I look forward to officially start sending letters real soon and to connecting with you deeper ♥️
MIANG KHUM RECIPE
For the sauce:
5 tbsps palm sugar or light brown sugar
5 tbsps tamarind concentrate
¼ cup water
2 tbsps fermented shrimp paste
2 tbsps shallots or red onion, diced
1/4 cup unsweetened toasted shredded coconut flakes
1/4 cup roasted peanuts, crushed
For the rest:
1 bunch collard greens, stems removed and leaves cut into palm-sized square-ish pieces
2-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and sliced into fingernail-sized pieces
2 medium shallots or 1/4 one red onion, diced
¼ cup roasted salted peanuts
¼ cup medium dried shrimp
1 lime, into semi-thin slices and then slice into eighths, keeping the rind intact
10 Thai bird’s eye chili, sliced into small pieces
¼ cup unsweetened toasted shredded coconut flakes
In a pan on medium-low heat, add the shredded coconut flakes. Stir and toast until golden brown. Remove from heat, set aside and divide 1/4 cup for the sauce and the rest for serving later.
Use a mortar and pestle or food processor to crush ¼ cup of roasted peanuts. Set aside.
In the same pan on medium heat, combine all the sauce ingredients. Stir and cook down the sauce until slightly thickened. This will funk up your home in the best way possible (but just giving you a heads up). Set aside to cool.
Prepare the collard greens. If making ahead of time, keep the cut leaves submerged in a bowl of cold water until ready for serving. Be sure to drain and dry the collard greens before serving.
Prepare the filling components: Transfer the lime wedges, ginger, shallots, chili, peanuts, dried shrimp, and the rest of the toasted coconut flakes into small individual serving bowls or arranged on a platter, along with the collard green wrappers. Transfer the sauce into its own bowl with a small serving spoon.
To eat, spoon a small amount of sauce onto a leaf wrapper and a little bit of each ingredient. Close the wrapper around the filling and eat in one bite.
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